On Tom Buechner/ Dave Higgins

November 8, 2010

We are in the last week of our Memorial Show for the late Tom Buechner, which ends on November 12.  In conjunction with this exhibit, we have been running a series of essays that were written by artists who painted and/or studied with Tom.  These essays accompanied an accompanying tribute show consisting of work by these artists that hangs in the upstairs gallery at the West End, which also ends on the 12th.  

Today we feature an essay by Dave Higgins.

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Reliquary- David Higgins

 

Out of the hundreds of kindnesses and mitzvahs that Tom did for me, one stands out in particular.

 

I’m an amateur musician. I play many different instruments, and for years I have been recording low-tech versions of my whimsical compositions. One day I gave Tom one of my tapes, and he seemed to enjoy it a lot. I thought he surely must be teasing me, but Tom was serious.

 

Somewhat later, in 1999, Tom took me to New York to show my paintings to his old friend Ivan Karp, a gallery owner and art world giant (he “discovered” Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, and other renowned artists). We all had lunch at a fancy restaurant and Tom and Ivan caught up on old times. I felt like a bug on a windshield, witnessing a big-time world of real consequence. Ivan looked at my work and was very kind in his evaluation (but typically, I never followed through).

 

At some point during the meeting Tom took out my music tape, I think to give Ivan some insight into my quirky world-view. He asked Ivan to listen to it, but Ivan demurred. Tom politely said, “no, really, you’ve gotta listen to this.” Ivan demurred again, a little more strongly. Tom kept insisting– and Ivan kept declining– in a subtly escalating, ever-polite test of wills. This went on for some time — past the point of friendly protocol. They weren’t faking. I couldn’t believe what I was witnessing– two old lions of the art world coming to the brink of cross words over… me?

 

That was Tom. He went to bat for me when I didn’t even believe in myself. I wish I could thank him just one more time.

 

 

David Higgins

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Influences

March 15, 2010

I’ve been exhibiting at the West End Gallery for over 15 years now and have benefitted in many ways.  It was the first place I showed and sold my  first piece of work.  It was the first place my work was showcased.  It was the place that first gave me hope of doing what I love as a career.  So many other things as well.  But perhaps the greatest benefit may have been what I have gained from observing the work of the other artists there over the years.

I’ve talked here and in my own blog of how artists such as Mark Reep, Marty Poole and Dave Higgins, among others,  have shaped how I work and how I see my own work.  Another such artist is Treacy Ziegler who has shown her collagraphs and, more recently, her distinctinctive paintings at the West End for many years now.

From the moment I saw Treacy’s work, I was intrigued.  I instantly recognized that she was doing with her work what I wanted and didn’t have in my work at the time.  Her prints had great areas of dark and light contrast and even in the lightest sections, a sense of darkness was always present which gave every piece real weight.  Her bold colors and striking contrasts gave even the simplest compositions a deeper feeling.

They were also immediately identifiable as Treacy’s work.  You could see a piece from across the street and you knew whose work it was.  She has a very idiosyncratic visual vocabulary and her shapes and forms react beautifully with one another in the techniques she uses in producing her work.

At the time, my own work was still very transparent and very much watercolor based.  With Treacy’s work in mind I started adding layers of darkness in my own way.  Simplifying form.  Enhancing contrast and color.  All the time searching for my own vocabulary, my own look. 

I’ve always maintained that artists are often more like synthesizers than creators.  They absorb multiple influences and take what they see in them,  merging them together to create something that is completely different than the original.  For me, the West End has always been a great source for ideas and concepts to absorb.  It may be in a certain brushstroke or the way a painting’s composition comes together or just in being exposed to an artist’s body of work for a long period of time.  Whatever the case, I always find something in the work there.

And that has been a great benefit…

———————-Posted by Gary Myers


Field Trip

March 4, 2010

By David Higgins, March 1, 2010

Every semester, I take my drawing class to West End Gallery. It’s a bit of a treat for the students to get out of the classroom; more importantly, it’s a chance for students to see good art in the flesh.

Alas, it snowed quite a bit that morning, so only half the class made it; really, school should have been canceled. Market Street was totally deserted– yet Linda was gracious enough to brave the snow and be on hand to open the gallery.

My modus operandi is to let the students wander around a bit and decide which piece they would take home with them if they had unlimited cash. Then, each student has to explain in turn what appealed to them about each piece; it helps them learn how to articulate about art, which is a huge part of the game. Students will open up much more readily on a field trip than they will in the confines of the classroom. And their observations are always insightful and interesting! I thought I’d share them with you.

Olivia P. went first; she chose a series of five small portrait studies by Marty Poole, done in a sketchy style with dash and verve. Olivia picked up on the background textures right away, and remarked on how their color and texture contributed a lot to the mood of each piece. Perhaps because she’s also an actress, she noted the poses and how we as viewers pick up on and read those gestures. Every semester, Marty teaches one or two of our students on an independent-study basis, and the students love both his work and his teaching method.

Whitney P. went immediately to a group of tiny fantasy landscapes by Mark Reep. Mark’s work is truly jaw-dropping in its creativity and detail, and students are typically astounded, commonly asking, “are they actual drawings?” This time, Mark had a small sign describing his materials and working methods; it’s hard to believe it, folks, but Mark weaves his magic with simple, ordinary pencils and charcoal (and cotton balls for shading). Whitney wondered if he was inspired by real places like Watkins Glen in addition to fantasy landscapes like those in the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy. The class seemed to like the fact (as I told them) that Mark is just a regular, humble guy from Lawrenceville who likes Metallica and Led Zeppelin.

Katya P., who grew up in Tomsk, Siberia and came to the USA as a teenager, chose some exquisite and exuberant jewelry by Leah Corey of Bath. In explaining her attraction to them, Katya used a metaphor about a European bird called a magpie, which collects sparkly things for no obvious purpose other than the sheer enjoyment of their gleam. Leah is new to West End, and Linda was on hand to explain that the brooch and pin, though large and complex, are meant to be worn. These pieces have a very dynamic and organic style—good stuff.

Stacy W. selected a small gestural still life done by Sheila Ortiz. Stacy picked up on its “Japanese style,” perhaps because she’s a manga fan; she liked its playfulness. Though the ink drawing, presumably done with a bamboo brush, was only about five inches square, Sheila created a tiny dynamo, giving it the motion and vitality of a much bigger piece. She really is a master of calligraphic gesture; I had her visit my class once to guest-teach gesture drawing, and the students got some great portfolio pieces from the experience.

Bryon B. chose a colorful cityscape by Bob Ivers, a one-point perspective scene of tall buildings as a backdrop for people, busses, and cars, all done in Bob’s glorious primary colors. Bryon described the buildings as cliffs and the road as “a river going through a gorge.”

Kevin C. chose a longitudinal red tree painting by Gary Myers. Kevin described it as having a “stained-glass” quality, which speaks to Gary’s skill with light and color. I’ve taken about 30 different classes to West End over the years, and Gary is probably at the top of the student hit parade; his work has an irresistible combination of accessibility and personal vision. I love telling students the (true) story of how Gary took a drawing class at CCC as an 18-year-old freshman, and his teacher (not me!) essentially told him that he had no talent and should give up his artistic ambitions… and how Gary persevered after many years and achieved well-deserved success. One of the most powerful messages that students receive at the gallery is that the owner and the artists are “regular” people with no special training or pretensions—and that indeed, many are former CCC students, like Gary.

Bradan J. went last. He asked if it was OK to choose a piece that had no nametag. I was puzzled until he explained that his choice was the sculpture of a lion that sits in the back window. Aha! We all know that lion, but how many of us actually pay attention to it? That’s the great privilege of being a teacher; I’m constantly amazed at the insights and interests of our students. I’ll never overlook that lion again!

Due to the snow, the other venues on our field trip—the ARTS and 171 Cedar—were closed, so I dismissed the students from there. I was very gratified when they continued to hang around and talk and look at art; you know your students are motivated when they don’t make a beeline for the door at the end of class. And that also speaks about their comfort level in non-artsy-fartsy West End and the beautiful work on display, and Linda’s generous spirit in accommodating a two-hour tour on a day that would see no commerce. Thanks again, Lin!


A Relationship

February 26, 2010

As David Higgins paints houses, so do I paint Madonnas. Well maybe not to that extent. ;- } My relationship with Mary dates back to the Cuban Missile Crisis where for 14 days in October 1962 the world stood paralyzed with fear. I experienced it as a quiet and intense fear with sure understanding that at any moment the sirens would wail out and within 25 minutes all would be incinerated. Each of those days I visited St. Mary’s church after school. I prayed for about an hour, asking Mary to intercede for mankind in its hour of greatest peril. At the successful resolution of the crisis I had a certain feeling that my prayers had been part of it. A bond with Mary was established that has lasted a lifetime, though I left the church for over 35 years. When I started my art some 1o years ago, the first subject that commanded my attention was Mary. I painted a series of 6 paintings, one painting for each clause in Mary’s Prayer. Since coming back to Corning in June I have done three Marys. The latest is called ‘Pray for Us.’

I have recently returned to the Catholic church so my mind is on faith and the sacraments. Just by chance (?) last week I ran across a photo of Christina at her First Holy Communion. I was struck by its purity.

I painted that.

I am hoping these paintings follow a rich tradition of spiritual art.

–Bill Boland

——-Posted by Bill Boland


Dave Higgins’ Yellow Houses

February 15, 2010

 I, like many artists, like to paint often in series.  That is, to paint a subject repeatedly in a series of paintings.   The repetition of the form makes it a natural motion for the painter and allows the mind to focus on brushwork and paint-handling.  The repetition takes away a lot of decisions that clutter the mind and slow the brush, allowing the painter to probe for and gain a greater understanding of his subject.

For me, perhaps the best example of this is Dave Higgins and his Yellow Houses.

This is a house that Dave could see from his bedroom as a child in Binghamton.  He has painted it over a hundred times and paints it  solely from memory now, although the early version at the bottom is from life.  Doing this particular painting over and over has allowed Dave to work with color and composition variance without having to struggle with trying to define the forms.  They are already engrained in his painter’s muscle memory. 

I’ve always thought of doing a painting in a series in much the same way as a musician performing one of their songs.  Each performance is the same chords, notes and lyrics.  To do this song in the same way each night would be pure repetition but for the true artist, each performance is an opportunity to experiment with nuance and subtleties in tone and texture that make each performance unique.

For those of you who have seen this series of paintings over the years, you’ll know what I mean when I say that the repetition of these pieces does not diminish the beauty and variety of each individual piece.  If anything, they are strengthened by their inclusion in this continuing examination of place.  Each is a new and different slice from Dave’s vivid memory and his unique mind.

Each stands alone as a distinct piece.  Great stuff from a great painter…

————Posted by Gary Myers